Lesson 1: Understanding Visual Stories

Lesson 1: Understanding Visual Stories

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What a Picture Is Worth

Visual media contains multitudes. From stock photos to selfies, different types of photography and video are created for different purposes.

Visual journalism is a tiny outpost in a world where more photos are taken in two minutes than in the entire 19th Century. But it's a crucial outpost nonetheless, because visual journalists are tasked with telling the true visual stories that witness and document our times. A visual journalist's fidelity is to the truth– not to a company or to saying "cheese." 

You can see how important visual journalism is to the news media in Pew's State of the News Media 2015 report, especially when you consider that for TV, online sites and mobile news, what's visual is vital.  Even for legacy journalism outlets, visual journalism matters greatly. In 2014, the most visited piece of content on the New York Times website was a series of portraits. In 2013, it was a series of data visualizations based on a regional dialect quiz. 

So it's no wonder that outlets from the New York Times to Vice are investing in innovative visual journalism. Happily, sites showcasing professional visual storytelling have multiplied in recent years. The Atlantic's In Focus, the New York Times's Lens Blog, AP Images, Reuters Pictures, Time's Lightbox, the New Yorker's Photo Booth– these websites and many more showcase contemporary photojournalism and documentary photography. 

Interview with Michael Lesy

Michael Lesy is a professor at Hampshire College and the author of 13 books, many of which concern historic photographs. In 2017, he'll release a book with the working title "Looking Backward," based on his research in the California Museum of Photography's Keystone-Mast Collection of approximately 100,000 vintage stereoscopic images at the University of California at Riverside.

The image below is of a cotton mill in Adams, Mass., likely taken in the early 20th century. All stereoscopic images are used here with permission.

Next Step

Now it's your turn.

Log into Moodle to complete the Lesson 1 exercises.